As part of Ballotpedia’s coverage on the coronavirus pandemic, we are compiling a daily summary of major changes in the world of politics, government, and elections happening each day. Here is the summary of changes for May 6, 2020.
State stay-at-home orders
- So far, 43 of the 50 states issued statewide shutdown orders. Eight of those orders are set to last until modified or rescinded by the governor, while the other 35 announced end dates.
- Oklahoma – On April 15, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) extended the state’s “Safer-at-Home” order through May 6. Prior to, the order was set to expire on April 30.
The 1918 influenza pandemic
The 1918 midterm elections occurred during the 1918 flu pandemic, one of the most severe in history. Each day, we’ll look back at a story from the 1918 elections to see how America met the challenges of holding elections during a national health emergency.
On October 18, 1918, the Louisville Times published an article titled, “State Board Here To Discuss Quarantine.” The article discussed the possibility of Kentucky’s State Board of Health lifting the ban on theaters, schools and public gatherings. The article also mentioned the possible effect keeping the bans would have on the upcoming campaign season.
“For the purpose of discussing the influenza epidemic and the question of lifting the ban on theaters, schools and public gatherings the State Board of Health will meet at The Seelbach this afternoon at 2 o’clock…Unless the ban is lifted at the meeting this afternoon, it will be necessary for the campaign committees of both the Democratic and Republican parties to call off all public speaking schedules throughout the State for the next two meweeks.”
- The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear a case challenging an order issued by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) that closed businesses in response to the coronavirus.
- President Donald Trump (R) announced the White House coronavirus task force would not be winding down. Yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence (R) told reporters the White House was considering moving the task force to other federal agencies.
Lawsuits about state actions and policies
- To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 63 lawsuits, spanning 30 states, relating to governmental actions undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 17 of those lawsuits.
- Ballotpedia has separately tracked another 43 lawsuits, spanning 24 states, dealing with the administration of elections in light of the pandemic. Orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 15 of those lawsuits.
- Roberts v. Neace – On May 4, 2020, Judge William Bertelsman, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky enjoined the state from enforcing its ban on interstate travel. In his order, Bertelsman wrote, “After careful review, the Court concludes that the Travel Ban does not pass constitutional muster. The restrictions infringe on the basic right of citizens to engage in interstate travel, and they carry with them criminal penalties.” Bertelsman rejected a challenge to limits placed on mass gatherings, including church services. Bertelsman wrote, “Plaintiffs are not alone in having their lives and activities disrupted by it and the measures that our federal and state governments have taken to address it. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that there is any American that has not been impacted. But unless a law can be shown to have religion within its cross-hairs, either facially or in application, the fact that religious practices are impinged by it does not contravene the First Amendment.” The suit was brought by Kentucky residents Joseph Roberts, Randall Daniel, and Sally Boyle. Plaintiffs for the attorneys indicated they intended to appeal the portion of Bertelsman’s ruling that upheld the state’s limits on mass gatherings.
- Twenty states and one territory have postponed state-level primary or special elections.
- Twelve states have modified candidate filing requirements.
- Twenty-seven states have made modifications to voting procedures.
- Political parties in 18 states have adjusted party events on a statewide basis.
- Michigan – On May 5, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that a district court judge who ordered modifications to Michigan’s candidate filing procedures had erred in doing so. Although the appeals court agreed that the original requirements were unconstitutional, it found that the lower court had exceeded its authority in mandating new requirements to the state. The appeals court directed the state “to select its own adjustments so as to reduce the burden on ballot access, narrow the restrictions to align with its interest, and thereby render the application of the ballot-access provisions constitutional under the circumstances.” The state has yet to indicate what modifications it will implement in response to the appeals court ruling.
- New York – On May 5, Judge Analisa Torres, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the New York State Board of Elections to reinstate the June 23 Democratic presidential preference primary, which the board had previously canceled. Andrew Yang, a former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, and several candidates for New York’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention filed the lawsuit April 28.
- Oklahoma – The state supreme court struck down a requirement that absentee ballots be notarized, finding that the requirement did not qualify as an exception under a state law establishing that statements signed and dated under the penalty of perjury carry the force of an affidavit.
- Virginia – A federal court approved a partial settlement suspending the witness requirement for absentee ballots. The suspension applies to the June 23 primary election.
Ballot measure changes
- Ballotpedia has tracked 20 statewide initiative petition drives that suspended signature gathering.
- Six states and D.C. changed ballot measure procedures.
- At least eight lawsuits were filed seeking court orders suspending or changing requirements and deadlines.
- At least one initiative campaign is reporting it has enough signatures but is delaying signature submission so its measure appears on the ballot in 2022 instead of 2020.
- Washington, D.C. – The Washington, D.C. Council passed a bill that made changes to the petition process for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The legislation allowed for the electronic distribution and electronic return of scanned petition sheets, which need to be physically signed.
- Forty-seven states have closed schools to in-person instruction for the remainder of the academic year. Those states account for 97.6% of the 50.6 million public school students in the country.
- Of the three states that have not announced that schools will for the remainder of the year, one has a Republican trifecta and two have divided governments. Those three states are Maryland, Montana, and Wyoming.
- All 50 states ordered a statewide school closure in some form.
- Montana – Three schools announced they will resume in-person instruction on Thursday when the state’s school closure order expires. Gov. Steve Bullock (D) said that the decision whether or not to reopen schools would be up to local officials. The three schools are: Cohagen Elementary School (14 students), Cooke City Elementary School (six students), and Willow Creek School (50 students).
- Twenty governors or state agencies have issued an executive order placing restrictions on out-of-state travelers.
- Arkansas – Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) lifted an order, signed April 4, that restricted hotels and short-term rentals to authorized guests, including essential workers. The order was enacted to discourage recreational travel into Arkansas.
State court changes
- Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide.
- Sixteen states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.
- Maine – The Maine Supreme Court extended restrictions on in-person proceedings through May 30. Jury trials are suspended through June 30.
- Colorado – The Colorado Supreme Court has extended its suspension of jury trials through July 6.
Prison inmate responses
- Eighteen states have ordered the release of inmates at the state level.
- Fourteen states have ordered the release of inmates on the local level.
- Twelve states have not released inmates due to coronavirus.
- Two states have prohibited the release of certain inmate populations.
- Four states have temporarily released certain populations of inmates.
- Massachusetts – Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court released a report stating that 993 inmates had been released from the state’s prison and jails since April 3, though the report does not make it clear how many inmates were released because of the pandemic or how many were released due to their sentences ending.
- New Mexico – The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously denied a petition filed by ACLU and the New Mexico Public Defender’s office asking for the mass release of at least 500 nonviolent inmates, including inmates over the age of 65 and inmates within a year of their release. On April 6, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) issued an executive order releasing inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes and scheduled to be released in the next 30 days. Thirty-three inmates have been released under the order.
Eviction and foreclosure policies
- Forty one states have implemented policies related to evictions or foreclosures on either the state or local level.
State legislative responses
- To date, 930 bills related to the coronavirus pandemic have been introduced in state legislatures.
- Of these, 105 significant bills have been enacted into law, about 11 percent of the total number that have been introduced. This total omits ceremonial resolutions and legislation providing for procedural changes to legislative business.
State legislative session changes
- Twenty-three state legislatures have suspended their sessions. Seven of those have since reconvened.
- Nineteen legislatures have either adjourned or are not scheduled to be in regular session this year.
- Five state legislatures are in regular session.
- Three state legislatures are in special session.
- Ohio – The Ohio House of Representatives reconvened on May 6. The Ohio State Senate is scheduled to reconvene on May 13.